Sixth Test Match

England v Australia 1985

John Thicknesse

Australia's modest chance of salvaging the Ashes effectively vanished on the opening morning when Gower won an exceptionally good toss and was then blessed by a good deal of luck in the first hour of what blossomed into a match-winning second-wicket stand of 351 with Gooch. The Essex opener, who had been rather overshadowed in the first five Tests by Robinson, his opening partner, made a chanceless 196 (27 fours, 423 minutes); but though Gower, too, went on to play brilliantly inscoring 157 (20 fours, 337 minutes), he had started loosely, lobbing the slips at 2 whilse attempting to kill a rising ball from McDermott, and surviving further narrow escaptes at 31 and 35 during an over from Lawson. Given extra help by ill-directed bowling, much of it over-pitched and leg-side, England had sped to 100 for one off 25 overs by lunch, from which point Australia played like a losing side.

Several factors were involved in Australia's demoralisation, among them the cumulative effect of so little cricket between Tests because of rain, and the tour-long battle for full fitness of Lawson, their most experienced bowler. But ill-judged selection also played a part in it. At The Oval, where they had to win the match to save the series, a bowler was omitted in favour of a batsman. Holland was dropped in conditions better suited to a leg-spinner than in any previous Test. O'Donnell and Thomson were the others omitted, with the three places going to Bennett, Wellham and Gilbert winning his first cap. England were unchanged, though Botham, who had twisted his left knee fielding for Somerset two days before, was declared fit only on the morning of the match. Agnew and Athey, Botham's stand-by were left out of the thirteen.

Australia's one moment of supremacy came after 37 minutes when McDermott yorked Robinson with a late in-swinger. Had Gower's mis-hit gone to hand in the young Queenslander's next over, England would have been 29 for two. Instead, Australia were outplayed on a pitch of pace and generous, even bounce that shared its favours equally between bat and ball; a credit to Surrey's groundsman, Harry Brind. Because of their sluggish over-rate of 13 an hour, Australia were already on "overtime", in the hottest weather for weeks, when Gower lashed a cut to deep gully aftera partnership with gooch in which the runs had come at 4.6 an over. Twenty-five minutes later Gatting was caught at the wicket off Bennett from a ball that turned - an ominous portent for Australia - but when England reached close of play on the first day at 376 for three, with Gooch 179, it seemed certain they were heading for a total of at least 600.

In the event, after Gooch and Emburey, the night-watchman, had added 27 in three overs off the new ball, Gooch mistimed a low full-toss and McDermott checked in his follow-through to bring off a very good caught and bowled, wide to his right with his knuckle almost on the turf. Against long odds, the innings ended two hours later, improved fast bowling and over-confident batting accounting for most of th six wickets which fell for 61. But the early loss of Wood to a possibly unlucky decision, and the mortifying sight of vice-captain Hilditch falling into Botham's hooking trap for the third time in the series, combined with their drubbing on the first day, knocked the fight out of Australia. With the exception of Ritchie (195 minutes), they batted with little resolve or basic technique, even Border taking too little account of the extra pace in the pich as he played on to Edmonds, attempting a forcing stroke against the spin. A brilliant overhead catch at second slip by Botham to remove Lawson hastened the end, and fifteen minutes after lunch on the third day, Australia followed on 223 behind.

After a lengthy stoppage through rain at 12 for no wicket, Hilditch and Wood picked up the second innings with an hour and three-quarters left before the revised time for drawing stumps, seven o'clock. But the faults of the first innings were soon in evidence. With only one run added, Botham bowled Wood, and three overs later Hilditch, having resisted several temptations to hook Botham, drove a widish ball from Taylor to cover point. When Wessels chased an even wider one from Botham, Australia were 37 for three, Downton taking a fine catch at full to his left. Wellham, out of his depth against Ellison's out-swing, was lbw to a breakback, and at close of play Australia were 62 for four, still 161 behind, with Border 26.

As on the previous three, every seat had been sold in advance for the fourth day's play, a crowd of 15,000 assembling to see if Australia's captain had one more heroic saving innings in him. And as at Old Trafford in the fourth Test, the day began ominously for England when in overcast conditions Downton missed Border in the first over before he had added to his score, diving for a mistimed leg-glance off Ellison. However, the captain's resolution struck no chord among his team-mates. Ritchie, driving at a wide one, and Phillips, making room to cut, were swept aside in 50 minutes, and at eight past noon Australia's last vestige of resistance disappeared when Border edged Ellison to second slip. There was time for Botham, leaping to his left to drag down a fast edge by McDermott, to add another to his galaxy of slip catches before Taylor caught and bowled Bennett to end the match and the series. in 96 minutes Australia had lost six for 67, Ellison finishing with five for 46.

As in 1926 and 1953, when the Ashes were also regained at The Oval, several thousand spectators massed in front of the pavilion when the match was over, to hail the England captain and his team and to give Allan Border a heartfelt cheer. Gooch was named Man of the Match and Gower Player of the Series. The attendance was 60,0000 and receipts £485,000.

© John Wisden & Co